Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise [DVD]
Screenplay : Steve Zacharias & Jeff Buhanik (story by Tim Metcalfe & Miguel Tejada-Flores and Steve Zacharias & Jeff Buhai)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1984
Stars : Robert Carradine (Lewis Skolnick), Anthony Edwards (Gilbert Lowe), Timothy Busfield (Poindexter), Andrew Cassese (Wormser), Curtis Armstrong (Booger), Larry B. Scott (Lamar), Brian Tochi (Takashi), Julia Montgomery (Betty Childs), Michelle Meyrink (Judy), Ted McGinley (Stan Gable), Matt Salinger (Burke), Donald Gibb (Ogre), John Goodman (Coach Harris)
As I finished watching Revenge of the Nerds, it occurred to me that I had no idea where the word nerd came from. According to The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, nerd is listed as originating around 1965 in hot-rod and surfing slang, although it was in oral use prior to 1955. It originally meant "a foolish or ineffectual person," and it derives from the similar word nert, which meant a crazy or stupid person.
I bring this up not to turn a review of a mid-'80s gross-out college satire into an exercise in academic pedantry, but to help illuminate some of what is happening in Revenge of the Nerds below its comedic surface. I find it interesting that nerd originally conveyed a sense of stupidity or foolishness, because that seems to be quite the opposite of the meaning used in the movie (and in modern discourse, in general). Rather, the nerds here are intelligent, creative, innovative, and cunning. In short, if there is any "ineffectualness" here, it is simply in the nerds' inability to conform to the mainstream. It is their outsider status that marks them as nerds, and they are outsiders because they have different priorities.
What Revenge of the Nerds makes clear, in both the story and its title, which humorously suggests a horror movie of sorts, is that "beautiful people" (jocks, sorority girls, cheerleaders, etc.) don't truly dislike nerds. Rather, they fear them. This is a key distinction, and it is one that I think often slips through the cracks because being feared is a form of power. Nerds are to be feared because, early in life, they seem weak, ineffective, and outside the social body. Yet, as time passes, the simple fact is that nerds become powerful while beautiful people, whose position in the social stratum is based on physical appearance and athletic prowess, begins to slide. Nerds are smart, and intelligence and knowledge increase with time, leading to professional success and the accumulation of wealth. The athleticism and good looks of jocks and cheerleaders can only go downhill.
Thus, worked into the subtext of the movie is the jocks' latent fear of the nerds based on their repressed knowledge that, someday, the people they mock and torture will overcome them. This, for instance, also comes out in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), in which the class nerd in the 1950s is a successful and confident businessman at the 25-year high school reunion. In real life, there is no better example than Bill Gates. You can laugh at his hair cut, sloppy clothes, and "nerdish" appearance all you want, but the fact is, he is a multi-billionaire with more power and influence than most of us could ever dream of.
So, the central joke of Revenge of the Nerds is not that nerds get their revenge (that will happen in due time). Instead, the central joke is that the nerds get their revenge prematurely. They defeat the jocks and beautiful people during the time in which they should be superior. Thus, it is a double victory that is that much more humiliating for those defeated.
The two main characters in Revenge of the Nerds are Lewis Skolnick (Robert Carradine) and Gilbert Lowe (Anthony Edwards, now well-known for his role on TV's ER), both of whom are nerds par excellence. They fit every clich* of nerd-dom, from the highwater pants, to the plain haircuts, to the outdated glasses, to the overloaded pocket protectors that are literally spilling over with pens, pencils, and the like. Lewis stands out even more with his awkward overbite and haw-hawing laugh that makes him sound like a braying donkey (apparently it's genetic because his nerd father, played by James Cromwell, has the same laugh).
When the movie opens, Lewis and Gilbert are entering their freshman year at Adams College. Lewis, the more outgoing of the two, is confident that they will have a great year. He is so sure that he and Gilbert have entered manhood and left their tortured high school years behind them that he boldly goes forward, thinking they will be accepted into the powerful Alpha Beta fraternity, which appears to be populated exclusively by the football team.
As one might guess, things do not go as Lewis planned. In fact, the first 45 minutes of the movie play out one humiliation after another. Along with the other freshmen, Lewis and Gilbert are tossed out of their dorm rooms and made to live in the gym when the Alpha Betas burn down their fraternity house during a party and take over the dorms as their place of residence. They are tricked into thinking they will join the fraternity and are then dehumanized in some kind of awful ritual (thankfully left off-screen) involving condoms and a sheep. When they finally gather together with some other nerds and refurbish an old house, the jocks throw a rock through their window. The final insult comes when, during a party meant to impress the leaders of the Lambda Lambda Lambda fraternity, for which they are a probationary chapter, the jocks let loose a dozen pigs in the house.
Thus, it is time for revenge. One of the creative aspects of Revenge of the Nerds is the way the screenplay sets out a broad spectrum of rejected outsiders and shows how each of them contributes a particular knowledge or skill that, when combined, is more than enough to defeat the jocks at their own game. While their technical skills are used during a high-tech panty raid of a sorority house, which incorporates the use of video cameras and a satellite dish, the majority of their skills are employed in the Greek Games at the annual Homecoming Carnival, the winner of which gets to choose the president of the Greek Council.
Gilbert and Lewis contribute natural leadership skills and their knowledge of computers. The various musical skills of the nerds, from Booger's (Curtis Armstrong) ability on guitar to Poindexter's (Timothy Busfield) violin playing, are put into good use in the final skit competition, in which they stage a show that is part Devo and part Michael Jackson. Wormser (Andrew Cassese), a preteen gifted child made to go to college many years before his time, knows aerodynamics, which he uses to design a special javelin for Lamar (Larry B. Scott), the group's flamboyantly gay member.
As the various members make clear, Revenge of the Nerds is not so much about the conventional idea of what a nerd is, but rather it is about the socially downtrodden in general. The group includes not only stereotypical nerds like Lewis and Gilbert, but also minorities (in the form of foreign-exchange student Takashi, played by Brian Tochi) and the homosexual Lamar. Therefore, it is of little surprise (although still funny) that the nerds officially become a chapter of Lambda Lambda Lambda, which is an exclusively African-American fraternity. The conflation of discriminated-against minorities and discriminated-against nerds is something of an uneasy pairing, but it does bring out the fact that predjudice is prejudice, no matter who it's aimed at or for what reason.
Most of the cast members returned three years later for Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise, which is largely a rehash of the first movie. It once again begins with a journey, except this time, instead of heading off to college, the boys are headed down to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for the United Fraternity Conference. Having conquered the Adams College campus, they once again find themselves discriminated against by members of the Alpha Betas, this time led by Roger (Bradley Whitford, who has one of the most sniveling voices I've ever heard), who happens to be president of the United Fraternity Organization.
No big surprise, then, that the plot follows the intrepid nerd heroes as they suffer a series of humiliations before asserting their superiority in the end. There are a few funny moments to be had, most notably Poindexter asking a cardboard cut-out of a bikini model if she's like a drink and Booger's run-in with a mystical Chinese shaman named Snotty, whose gross-out capabilities far exceed Booger's own.
Overall, though, Revenge of the Nerds II has little to offer that wasn't done better by the first movie. Courtney Thorne-Smith looks uncomfortable and stiff as Sunny, Lewis' new love interest, and Anthony Edwards was wise, after his success as Goose in the megahit Top Gun (1986), to take only a cameo role (his absence is explained by the fact that he broke his leg playing chess--"Hey, don't get down on yourself," Lewis tells him. "That was a difficult move"). Still, it isn't worse than the next two sequels, Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation (1992) and Revenge of the Nerds IV: Nerds in Love (1994), which bypassed theaters altogether and for good reason.
|Revenge of the Nerds / Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise Fox Double Feature DVD|
|Audio||Dolby 2.0 Surround|
Dolby 1.0 Monaural
|Languages||English (2.0, 1.0), French (1.0)|
|Supplements||Original theatrical trailers for both films|
Original theatrical trailers for Porky's and Porky's II
|Distributor||20th Century Fox|
|Both films are presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfers that look very good. The images on both films are sharp and detailed, with good color saturation (all those reds on the Alpha Beta sweaters sometimes veer toward a tad of oversaturation, but it is very minor). There is some film grain evident in the darker scenes, but none of it is distracting. The overall visual look of both film is fairly plain, but the new digital transfers breathe new life into these films that have languished on bad video for too long.|
|The original monaural soundtrack for Revenge of the Nerds has been remixed into a subtlety effective Dolby 2.0 surround track. There is nothing particularly outstanding about it, but it does what it needs to without pushing its inherent limitations. The songs on the soundtrack have a nice spaciousness that enhances their mid-'80s electronic pop vibe, and the dialogue is always clear and well-rendered (especially Robert Carradine's wonderfully braying laugh). The soundtrack on Revenge of the Nerds II sounds just a bit better, probably because it was originally mixed in 2.0 surround.|
|The only supplements on the disc are original theatrical trailers for both Revenge of the Nerds and Revenge of the Nerds II, both of which are presented in anamorphic widescreen. The disc also features trailers for another Fox Double Feature DVD, Porky's and Porky's II: The Next Day, both of which are also presented in anamorphic widescreen.|
©2001 James Kendrick